by Frank Knaack, Director of Public Policy and Communications
Law enforcement says that we cannot be both safe and free – we need to choose. While it’s troubling that law enforcement forgets that our freedoms ensure our security (and our democracy), they don’t get to make the rules. Or, so we thought until one of our most powerful elected officials made this statement – “as it comes to public safety issues, I am always going to come down on the side of law enforcement.”
Particularly at a time when we’re seeing episode after episode after episode of police overreach and abuse, who would say this? Our Governor – Terry McAuliffe.
Governor McAuliffe said this when questioned about his attempts to gut legislation that would place reasonable restrictions on law enforcement. As Virginians, we rely on law enforcement to protect us. It is an often dangerous job, and we are grateful to those who take the oath to protect and serve. But, our admiration for law enforcement doesn’t grant them a blank check to ignore basic American principles.
Unfortunately, a blank check is just what law enforcement seeks. And, that’s exactly what Governor McAuliffe tried to give them when he asked the General Assembly to change legislation in ways that would grant law enforcement the power to engage in mass surveillance of innocent Virginians “just in case something happens” and spy on Virginians without a warrant. Fortunately, the General Assembly saw through almost all of the misinformation and rhetoric of fear used to attack the bills just as they had done during the regular session when they passed the bills almost unanimously after hearing these same arguments in committee and on the floor of both houses.
Unfortunately, the General Assembly did accept one of the Governor’s amendments – and it’s a doozy! The General Assembly had passed legislation affirming the standards to be applied when government wants to collect personal information (regardless of the device used to collect it). The Governor’s amendment scaled back existing law to limit the restriction to the use of automatic license plate readers, meaning that law enforcement would have free rein to collect our personal information using other surveillance devices.
The Governor has a simple choice – he can sign the pro-privacy bills that ensure innocent Virginians are not treated like criminals or he can veto the laws and leave law enforcement free to conduct mass surveillance without any limits or accountability to us, the people being policed.
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